— Sue Bohlmann always loved big dogs. Golden
retrievers, especially. Then she and her husband added a
Bernese mountain dog to the mix.
dogs have such a presence," she said. "They
like you to bury your head in their big chests or ram
their big bodies into you. They’re just so
when their 4-year-old Bernese died suddenly and they had
to put down their aging golden shortly thereafter,
Bohlmann, 69, took a serious look at downsizing her
dogs. "I wanted to make sure I was diligent in my
choice, because I would be moving into my 70s with
whatever breed we chose," she said.
and her husband, Pete, now share their Minnetonka,
Minn., home with a couple of tiny tail-waggers: an
energetic and agile 11-pound Havanese named Mateo and a
6-pound papillon-Maltese mix named Gretel, whose good
looks make up for her lack of smarts, Bohlmann joked.
than half of U.S. households own a dog that weighs less
than 25 pounds, according to the marketing research firm
Packaged Facts. The trend toward pint-size pooches has
been documented since 2000, but has accelerated in
recent years in part because of an aging population of
baby boomers such as Bohlmann.
these dog lovers head into their golden years, the
notion of scaling down becomes more pressing. Bodies are
aging, strength is waning and occasionally we are less
sturdy on our feet.
you’re concerned about falling, having a big,
boisterous puppy in your household could be
challenging," said Cindy Johnson of the Minnesota
Animal Humane Society.
addition, many senior high-rises and assisted-living
communities have size restrictions, which make it
difficult to bring larger breeds with you if you need
— or want — to move.
if you’re planning to do some traveling, small dogs
are more likely to be accepted at hotels, fit better in
a cramped RV and can easily be tucked beneath an
so portable," said Bohlmann, who took both small
dogs with her to Costa Rica one winter.
plus? Small dogs eat less, making them more affordable
for retirees and people on fixed incomes.
on the breed, more petite dogs also may be less
of the big concerns seniors have is being able to walk
with their dogs," said Carol Martin, owner of Tails
of 2 Cities, a pet-sitting and dog-walking company.
"It’s healthy for everyone to get outside, but
the smaller ones are fine in the backyard, just chasing
a dog’s energy levels and temperament can be just as
important as size.
you have young grandchildren who visit often, an
easygoing Lab or retriever mix might be a better fit
than a high-strung Jack Russell terrier that might not
like having its tail tugged.
needs also might be a consideration. A short-haired dog
won’t have to get to the groomer every six weeks like
a poodle. Other small breeds, such as Lhasa apsos and
spaniels, need frequent brushing to keep their coats
— of the dog, not just the owners — also plays a
groups and animal shelters encourage older dog lovers to
consider adopting an adult dog, or even a white-muzzled
senior. Adult dogs have outgrown their rambunctious
puppy stage, and there are fewer surprises when it comes
to their health and personalities.
of us remember what it was like to get our first dog in
our 20s or 30s when we first set out on our own,"
said Johnson of the Humane Society.
get 55 or older, you might say, ‘No, thank you. I want
a nice adult dog, easygoing, where I don’t have to
worry about training and destroying the house.’?"
dogs can be a better fit "energy-wise," said
Jean Beuning, who runs Top Dog Country Club in New
Germany, Minn., and is raising money to build a
nonprofit sanctuary for senior dogs.
dogs aren’t going to be bouncing off the walls if
someone’s in a walker," she said, or underfoot as
a tripping hazard.
FOR THE FUTURE
matter what breed an aging dog lover settles on, it’s
important to consider the dog’s future, too.
know people who’ve set aside money in their will to
care for their dogs," Martin said. "At least
you have a better chance of having someone help out if
you go first."
bought long-term care insurance.
way nobody tells me I have to move to assisted living
and my dogs can’t follow," she said.
can all stay at home."
for Bohlmann, she has no regrets about downsizing. She
ended up needing neck surgery that would have made
walking and caring for a big dog more difficult.
companion is a companion," she said, "no
matter what size."